Power 100: N – Z

NJBIZ STAFF//February 17, 2020//

Power 100: N – Z

NJBIZ STAFF//February 17, 2020//

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Philip Norcross

Law firm Parker McCay and lobbying firm Optimus Partners might represent the epitome of the politically connected firms – if the news headlines and government watchdogs are to be believed. Philip, an executive at both, is the nexus. He is the brother of both George Norcross — the South Jersey political kingmaker, board chair at Cooper University Health Care and executive chairman at insurance firm Conner Strong & Buckelew — and Donald Norcross, a former state senator and now the U.S. representative from the First Congressional district. Optimus’ chief goal is to advise private businesses seeking to establish or expand a presence in New Jersey. A January report from a task force Gov. Murphy convened to examine the state’s corporate incentives program highlighted the political influence Philip allegedly wielded over the creation of the scheme. In 2013, he was able to directly insert a provision in the tax break legislation that allowed nuclear energy company Holtec International, where George is a director, to win what was ultimately the second largest tax break in state history. Kevin Sheehan, a lawyer at Parker McCay, allegedly wrote many provisions of the tax incentive program in a way that benefited Norcross-affiliated businesses in Camden, according to the task force. For the near future at least, the two firms may find themselves continuously caught up in Trenton political crosshairs.

Kevin O’Dowd

After serving as chief of staff to Gov. Chris Christie, O’Dowd took over as co-president/CEO of Cooper University Health Care in 2018. Under his leadership, the Camden medical center has shown increases in patients and revenues, according to a person familiar with the institution. Operating revenues now top $1.3 billion and the hospital admits about 30,000 patients a year. In addition, O’Dowd is the current chairman of the New Jersey Hospital Alliance, an advocacy group for the state’s urban and teaching hospitals.

Kevin O’Toole

O’Toole is the chairman of Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, a close ally of Senate President Steve Sweeney and managing partner at the law firm O’Toole Scrivo. A longtime friend of former Gov. Chris Christie, he has clashed with the Murphy administration over hiring and appointments at the bistate agency. For nearly a century, the Port Authority has been transforming the region, O’Toole told NJBIZ in February 2020. “It connects more than states; it connects people to jobs, families and homes, and business to markets near and far,” he said. “The agency can point to real accomplishments in returning to its core mission – planning for the new Midtown Bus Terminal, unprecedented rebuilding of our three major airports, a new Goethals Bridge, a new Harrison PATH Station and major increases in train frequency and capacity. Historic levels of investment will keep the Port Authority’s legacy assets in good repair. This progress is important, but we still haven’t completed the job. There’s more work to do. I am committed, with my close partner of now two-plus years Executive Director Rick Cotton, and with all our partners in both New Jersey and New York, to getting the job done. Working together, we will.”

Sheila Oliver

As head of the Department of Community Affairs, Lt. Gov. Oliver leads an agency that governs how New Jersey’s 565 municipalities operate. In 2016, the DCA took control of Atlantic City’s governance as the resort town struggled with a junk rating on its bonds and teetered on the edge of bankruptcy. Oliver was the state’s second African-American Assembly Speaker and the second African-American woman to lead any state Legislature in the U.S. Whenever Murphy leaves the state, Oliver takes the helm as acting governor. She has her work cut out for her as head of the DCA in the oversight of Atlantic City, and making sure the resort town is self-sufficient before the five-year takeover ends in 2021. Up north, Oliver has been involved in the state’s 169 opportunity zones, a federal tax break meant to attract investment to the country’s poorest neighborhoods, to ensure the development actually benefits local communities and to ward off gentrification.

Barry Ostrowsky

The RWJBarnabas Health service area covers nine counties with five million residents. As president and chief executive officer, Ostrowsky oversees a system that includes 11 acute care hospitals (five are teaching hospitals), three children’s hospitals, a pediatric rehabilitation hospital and its multiple outpatient facilities, ambulatory care centers, geriatric centers and a free-standing behavioral health center. It is also home to New Jersey’s largest statewide behavioral health network, a satellite emergency department, trauma centers, comprehensive home care and hospice programs, pharmacy services, multi-site imaging centers, an accountable care organization, as well as medical groups with primary and specialty care physician practices. With a staff of 33,000, RWJBarnabas Health is among the largest employers in New Jersey and includes 9,000 physicians (representing more than 40 percent of the state’s actively practicing physicians) and 1,000 residents and interns.

Scott Paladini

Paladini is a new addition here and representative of a new guard in New Jersey business. He started Bear Mattress in 2014 after becoming dissatisfied with industry offerings. He had grown up in the mattress industry through his dad, and opened his own shop in 2012, so he’d given it more than a little thought. Bear Mattress debuted at the No. 7 spot on the Inc. magazine 5000 in August, indicating that his Hoboken-based business with 12 employees was the seventh fasting growing private company in the country. Designing mattresses, pillows and sleep accessories with the needs of athletes in mind, it has grown 13,481 percent in the past three years.

Frank Pallone

Now in his 16th full term in Congress, Pallone serves as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The panel’s broad remit includes health care, an issue that will place Pallone in the middle of debates over whether to expand Medicare, bolster the Affordable Care Act or cut down on prescription drug prices — all rallying cries for the growing progressive movement in the Democratic Party nationwide. And his experience on environmental issues makes him critically important to his oceanfront and bayshore district. In his chairmanship position, Pallone has targeted companies that produce flavored vapes, pushed a bill to cut down surprise medical billing, and championed a bill that would set drug prices at levels similar to costs in other countries for those same medications. Earlier in February, Pallone and other Democrats from New Jersey’s Congressional delegation met in Trenton with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to tout party efforts to cut down prescription drug prices, which have stalled in the Republican-led U.S. Senate. “On the campaign trail, then candidate Trump promised to empower Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices, but since taking office he’s caved to Big Pharma’s lobbying pressure and declined to support my Lower Drug Costs Now Act,” Pallone said in a statement following Trump’s State of the Union address on Feb. 4.

Dean Paranicas

As president and chief executive officer of the HealthCare Institute of New Jersey, Paranicas oversees the trade association for the leading research-based biopharmaceutical and medical technology companies in New Jersey. HINJ works to ensure life sciences companies have a supportive innovation ecosystem to discover and develop new cures and treatments, patients have access to the medicines they need, and that New Jersey remains a global life sciences hub with all of the attendant economic and quality of life benefits. Along with BioNJ chief Debbie Hart, Paranicas is and will continue to be a prominent participant in the debates over controlling prescription drug prices — see, e.g., Frank Pallone, above — a critical issue for the state’s giant pharmaceutical industry. Before joining HINJ, Paranicas was vice president, corporate secretary and public policy, for BD. He is a trustee emeritus and former chair of the Rutgers University board of trustees.

Matt Platkin

Platkin remains influential within Gov. Murphy’s inner circle. Earlier in 2020, Platkin returned from a nearly month-long stint as U.S. Sen. Cory Booker’s legal staff for the Senate trial of U.S. President Donald Trump. In a Feb. 6 op-ed for the Star-Ledger, he called on lawmakers to approve several of Murphy’s agenda items for “demanding transparency and accountability” in state and local government by “tackling corruption.” Platkin seems to enjoy relatively a solid relationship rapport the governor. Nowadays, no piece of legislation will be signed or vetoed without Platkin’s input, and that extends even to a variety of the governor’s nominations.

Christopher Porrino

He was attorney general under the Christie administration, but you don’t get much more politically agnostic than Porrino. Now at Lowenstein Sandler LLP, a firm he has a long history with, politicos on both sides of the aisle seek his counsel: George Norcross picked him to represent Cooper University Health Care and Conner Strong & Buckelew; and last year, Gov. Murphy tapped him to represent members of the administration in the Katie Brennan hearings. “There can’t be a higher compliment. To the extent that New Jersey has a go-to lawyer right now on government policy issues, it’s Chris. Everybody likes him, and everybody seems to be using him,” one insider noted. According to another, “No one moves more smoothly back and forth between government service and the private sector – nor ruffles fewer feathers.”

Christina Renna

The Chamber of Commerce of Southern New Jersey has seen big changes with Renna taking the helm in January. As the new president, Renna is able to call upon her experience as the chamber’s senior vice president and her time working at the Governor’s Office under Chris Christie. She serves on the advisory board of the Walter Rand Institute for Public Affairs at Rutgers University-Camden and on the board of Habitat for Humanity of Burlington County and Greater Trenton-Princeton. South Jersey may not be as industrialized as the north, but it is home to some of the state’s most iconic corporate names and important industries; the region’s biggest employers are situated in Atlantic City, Camden and Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst. Like her counterparts at the other main business advocacy groups across the state, Renna continues to be among a handful of figures in Trenton opposing such moves as stricter independent contractor and worker misclassification laws, a $15 minimum wage, and severance pay requirements.

Hetty Rosenstein

As head of the state’s largest public workers union for over a decade, Rosenstein has shown that she is not one to be trifled with in Trenton. Closely aligned with the governor’s office, the Communication Workers of America has seen several of its staffers tapped by Murphy to sit on boards, commissions and task forces, which has been ultimately questioned by critics and media outlets alike. For the past decade, Rosenstein has been one of the most vocal opponents of any proposals that would slash health and retirement plans for public workers, of which at least 35,000 are CWA members. Her organization and the Murphy administration last year agreed on a $120 million contract covering health plans and annual raises for its workers. The administration said the health plan changes would save the state upwards of $70 million. And those changes, Murphy has argued, are cheaper for the state than the cuts proposed by Senate President Steve Sweeney, a foe of Rosenstein. The CWA, which has donated over half a million dollars to the pro-Murphy group New Direction NJ, has Murphy’s ear in the pension and health care fight. “I respect Hetty,” Sweeney told NJ Advance Media in April 2019. “She’s smart. She’s tough. She’s shown a willingness to negotiate on health care when the other unions did not. And she negotiated a very good deal for her union.”

Scott Rudder

As the president of the New Jersey CannaBusiness Association, Rudder has been an active member in statewide conversations on cannabis advocacy and adult use legalization. The former Republican state legislator, mayor, veteran and current government affairs executive and former business development head for Lockheed Martin, founded the NJCBA in 2016 and has only gotten busier with the growth of the state’s medical cannabis program, up to 67,644 participants from 17,000 when Gov. Murphy took office in 2018. According to Marijuana Business Daily, New Jersey’s medical cannabis program was valued at $30 million in 2018. Rudder’s organization isn’t just lobbying to the state’s key decision maker, it’s influencing education as well: the NJCBA created a cannabis studies program at Stockton University, Atlantic Cape Community College and Union County College in 2019, educating the next generation of cannabis businessfolk.

Richard Saker

The Saker ShopRite location in Monmouth Junction that opened in the fall was the neighborhood’s first in over a decade since Grand Union shut its doors. For the first time in years, community members don’t need to hoof it up to North Brunswick or over to Lawrenceville to feed their families. They’re far from the only community served by Saker, as his piece of the Wakefern co-op operates 32 grocery stores with 32 pharmacies, two liquor stores, and four commissaries that supply their stores with over 1,000 freshly made items daily. Though he completed his term as NJFC board chair in January, he remains an active member in the organization his father started 50 years ago and an important part of the New Jersey business community: the grocery empire he built employs more than 9,000 people.

John Saraceno

Saraceno is co-founder – with partner Jonathan Schultz – and managing principal of Onyx Equities LLC. Since its establishment in 2004, Onyx has acquired more than $3 billion worth of real estate assets throughout New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Connecticut, and executed over $400 million in asset repositioning projects across all property types. Serving as chief investment strategist, Saraceno directs the firm’s approach to investment and portfolio management. Notable deals completed by Saraceno include the Gateway Center in Newark in which Onyx acquired three of the four buildings that make up the complex. The company’s entry into the Newark office market continues to gain momentum, attracting startup and mature tech-oriented businesses. Saraceno recently announced that Gateway’s exterior will be redesigned to include approximately 10,000 square feet of street-facing retail space for the first time. Gateway’s concourse, lobbies and 5,000 square feet of converted retail space will also be reconfigured to be consistent with the expectations of today’s tenancy to include spaces of varying sizes to relax, or enjoy food and drink from local and international dining options. A sleek color palette, updated windows and modern textures will complete the look. The remaking of Gateway, once a symbol of how not to redevelop a city – because it kept commuters off city streets – could mark yet another milestone in Newark’s renaissance.

Greg Schiano

Schiano, the most successful football coach in Rutgers University history, returns to the sidelines for a second stint with the program. Rutgers Athletic Director Pat Hobbs and the school’s board of governors hired Schiano, but only after lengthy negotiations broke down, prompting an outcry from donors, alumni, fans and politicians. The public pressure forced Hobbs and the board to restart the talks and ultimately agree to give Schiano an eight-year, $32 million contract. With the football team a perennial laughingstock in the Big 10 Conference, Schiano has a huge job ahead. But if he can replicate even a fraction of his success during his previous tenure, including six bowl games in seven years, he would become a New Jersey legend.

Dan Schwartz

It was a record-breaking year for Chiesa Shahinian & Giantomasi PC. Attorney headcount surpassed the 160 mark and firmwide revenues checked in above $70 million for the first time in firm history. Schwartz has led CSG since 2016 and has been at the firm since 1983. He spearheaded efforts toward expanding the firm’s geographic footprint and formalized CSG’s diversity and inclusion committee. The firm added a family law group in 2019, and Schwartz is the one leading the charge in adding powerhouse attorneys to an already powerful roster: a former chief of asset recovery and anti-money laundering for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey; a regionally renowned trusts and estates attorney; former general counsel to a national real estate management and development company; and a former Fortune 10 compliance officer were among the nearly three dozen attorneys who chose CSG as their platform for growth.

Donald Sebastian

Sebastian became chief executive officer of the New Jersey Innovation Institute, a corporation within the New Jersey Institute of Technology, after 15 years leading research at NJIT. A leader in the manufacturing sector credits Sebastian for “creating the original model now known as the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program.” Sebastian notes that NJII has grown top-line revenue by 12 percent to nearly $90 million per year. He cited an independent assessment of economic impact that measured NJII’s benefit to the New Jersey economy as more than $1.3 billion. NJII’s Healthcare division completed a $49 million, four-year practice transformation grant with a demonstrated impact of $180 million per year in cost savings to Medicaid and Medicare. “The program was designed to help physicians change to outcomes-based reimbursement models,” Sebastian said. “The annual savings are roughly 15 times the annual program expenditure and then continue on even as the funded program is complete. NJII is now operating the New Jersey Healthcare Information Network and has successfully recruited all of the state’s hospitals to interconnect with live exchange of healthcare records.” NJII’s Bio-pharma division began construction on two pilot scale manufacturing labs to support work on the next generation of cell and gene therapies. The gene therapy lab at Rutgers Newark Medical School began operation in January 2020 and is already doing client development projects. The Cell Therapy cGMP on the NJIT campus will be operational in the second quarter of 2020, Sebastian said. NJII worked with three communities to develop technology hub concepts using New Jersey Economic Development Authority community grants – Fort Monmouth, Newark and Plainfield. Each project relates to the use of advanced telecommunications and sensor-based technologies as a civic good and a business attraction strategy.

Michele Siekerka

As the chief executive officer of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, Siekerka undoubtedly knew that the $15 minimum wage law would be a top concern for the group’s 20,000-strong membership, which is dominated by small businesses. And, in fact, Siekerka was a persistent — if unsuccessful — opponent of the bill. With the law enactment, the NJBIA’s attention turned to seeking changes and helping its members cope with the new requirements, as well as the paid leave law that is also now in effect. But the group also pays attention to the big picture, recently issuing a report on New Jersey’s approaching “financial cliff” showing that state expenditures have outstripped revenue for the past 10 years, exploding the state debt by 382 percent. “As the interest on state debt continues to grow, pressure builds on the state budget, forcing the governor and Legislature to consider tax increases to fund priorities such as education, transportation, infrastructure and other state services,” Siekerka said in a statement accompanying the report’s release. Studies like that, and daily news bulletins, keep the NJBIA at the forefront of the conversation about where the state’s economy is headed. “Under Michele’s leadership, NJBIA has been on the frontlines of stopping, stalling or mitigating policies that serve as a detriment to small and large business,” a source who works closely with Siekera told NJBIZ in February 2020. “Most notably and recently during lame duck, NJBIA was significant in halting the independent contractor and bad faith insurance bills.”

Nancy Erika Smith

More than 30 years into her career of fighting and winning employment law cases, Smith’s intensity still burns brightly: “Practically single-handedly Smith made us recognize how by forcing women to sign NDAs in exchange for #MeToo settlements, companies protect and enable their abusers,” one insider said. “No one, and I mean no one, is a fiercer or more articulate advocate for sexually abused women, inside or outside the courtroom.” She recently had PNC Bank in her crosshairs, representing former employee Damara Scott who claims she was sexually assaulted leaving the Glen Ridge PNC in October 2013 by a man that her employer allegedly knew had a questionable pattern of behavior and a lot of money. Smith and a team of two other attorneys won Scott $2.4 million. Smith is perhaps best known as the lawyer behind Gretchen Carlson’s sexual harassment case against Fox News and Roger Ailes, which settled for $20 million in the national spotlight.

Jennifer Phillips Smith

As a director at Gibbons PC, Smith counsels clients on real estate matters ranging from redevelopment projects spanning hundreds of acres to issues affecting small business owners. She represents clients seeking site plan approval and variances from numerous planning and zoning boards in connection with restaurant, residential, retail, office, financial, medical, educational, and mixed use projects. She also represents clients in redevelopment areas and has experience drafting and reviewing redevelopment documents, including redevelopment agreements and redevelopment plans. Smith has extensive experience in land use litigation, including both the defense of and objection to municipal land use approvals. She also has expertise in real estate development and redevelopment regarding applications for development, typically representing applicants and objectors in applications to planning and zoning boards and commissions, as well as to other municipal, county, and state agencies, in connection with restaurant, retail, hospital, residential, industrial, and mixed use projects and involving a wide range of issues, such as zone changes, environmental constraints, highway access, sewer/water connection, and other permitting and municipal law issues. In December 2019, Smith presented the Sayreville planning Board in the application from Sayreville Seaports Associates Urban Renewal LP (SSA), the designated developer for a portion of Riverton, a $2.5 billion mixed-use project being developed in the borough alongside the Raritan River and on a site formerly owned by National Lead.

Bob Sommer

Sommer is the CEO of Awsom Associates and an adviser and confidante to anyone who matters in Democratic politics in this state. A consummate and discreet insider, he can be counted upon to make connections and provide important context to what might seem like arcane political disputes and infighting. Sommer knows the personalities, the histories and the motivatons of the state’s heaviest political hitters. Among the luminaries in this contact list are South Jersey boss George Norcross, Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop and White House adviser Jared Kushner. He previously served as president of Rock Entertainment Group, president of Observer Media Group, oversaw business operations for such properties as The New York Observer and PolitickerNJ, and was a partner and executive vice president of national PR firm MWWPR. Sommer now runs his own communications, government relations and public affairs firm and lectures at the Rutgers University Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, where in 2011 he was awarded Alum of the Year.

Chris Sugden

The founder and managing partner of Princeton-based Edison Partners, Sugden is, perhaps, the most prominent private capital executive in the state. The firm has $1.6 billion under management and 51 active portfolio companies. Edison Partners has invested in more than 225 high-growth companies including 80 New Jersey-based businesses over the past 33 years. Its operating platform, Edison Edge, brings an integrated team of investors and operators to every investment providing guidance on sales and marketing effectiveness, financial planning and controls, human capital management, board leadership, capital formation and M&A strategies. Though its roots are firmly in New Jersey where three of its five largest successes were realized, the firm plans to continue gradually expanding its geographic footprint. In fact, it already recently completed new investments in both the Midwest and Southeast.

Tim Sullivan

As head of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, Sullivan is one of the biggest cheerleaders for Gov. Phil Murphy’s proposed “State of Innovation” – an effort to attract businesses small and large to New Jersey. For the last year and a half, the Murphy administration has been promoting advanced manufacturing, logistics, food and beverage and clean energy as the industries holding the most promise for rapid growth within New Jersey in the near future. Moreover, the state has been without any major incentive program ever since July, when the two largest programs – the Grow New Jersey corporate tax breaks, and the Economic Redevelopment and Growth gap financing programs – expired without any replacements. Like Murphy, Sullivan has been adamant that the incentives need to target specific industries, and need to be capped, or budgeted, at a certain dollar amount. Negotiations have effectively stalled, but despite the impasse, Sullivan has been the boots on the ground with businesses, rolling out many of Murphy’s ideas for economic incentives, albeit at a smaller level. Some of the programs are meant to offer easier connections between employers, labor training and schools, or between different businesses looking to be involved with the state’s growing clean energy sector. Whatever form the new incentive program takes, Sullivan and the EDA will administer it.

Stephen Sweeney

Arguably the second most powerful elected official in the state, Sweeney has been seen as one of the only officials with the clout to take on Murphy himself. The longtime union ironworker wields the votes in Trenton. And Murphy’s inability to quickly enact many of his key policy proposals – such as a millionaire’s tax and corporate incentives reform – has largely been attributed to resistance from Sweeney. The Senate president has vowed to push a set of his “Path to Progress” proposals that would cut the retirement and health care plans for the state’s public workers — something opposed by Murphy, who was elected with public worker union backing. Budget talks between Murphy, Sweeney and other legislative leadership were relatively calm in 2019, compared to 2018 when a government shutdown was avoided thanks to an 11th-hour budget agreement. Sweeney shows no signs of budging on an overall tax incentive cap which Murphy has called a dealbreaker in the negotiations over a new economic incentive program. As Murphy prepares to present his budget in March, the millionaire’s tax and corporate tax incentive programs could almost certainly come up during the budget talks which continue through the June 30 deadline.

Michael Tardugno

In 2011 Tardugno, who is president and CEO of Celsion Corp., relocated the biopharmaceutical company to Lawrenceville from Maryland. He was looking to develop and commercialize life-saving chemotherapy and immunotherapy agents where he could recruit the best talent. In 2019 Celsion received $10.6 million via the State’s Technology Business Tax Certificate Transfer Program from the New Jersey Economic Development Authority and the Department of Treasury’s Division of Taxation. Celsion is developing products targeting liver and ovarian cancer. With 40 years of experience in the pharmaceutical and medical device industries, Tardugno’s career has been devoted to health care. Before joining Celsion, he held senior executive positions with Mylan Laboratories, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Bausch & Lomb and Abbott Laboratories.

Mark Tritton

Tritton started his reign at Bed Bath & Beyond with a bold move: he ousted six senior executives in the midst of the 2019 holiday shopping season. When the retailer’s disappointing third quarter earnings were announced in January, Tritton didn’t mince words. “Let me be clear, these results are unsatisfactory and underscore the imperative to change and strengthen our sense of priorities and purpose,” he said. “We must respond to the challenges we face as a business, including pressured sales and profitability, and reconstruct a modern, durable model for long-term profitable growth.” The former Target exec means business for the Union-based retailer, and said the company would detail its turnaround plans in the near future. Bed Bath’s position as a household name in household products can’t hurt Tritton’s plans: NPD consumer tracking data identified the brand as No. 1 in brand awareness across housewares and home goods.

Bob Unanue and Peter Unanue

Goya’s not for sale, and that ain’t changin’. that was the company line this year when media outlets reported that the biggest Hispanic-owned food company in the nation was mulling a $3.5 billion sale to Wall Street firm The Carlyle Group. “Goya is and will always be committed to serving and building on our legacy of supporting our communities, established by our founding grandparents 83 years ago,” brothers Bob and Peter, the company’s president and executive vice president, shared via a spokesperson. “We will never betray that mission.” They added: “Through our Goya Gives program and other initiatives, we will continue to be socially responsible by giving back to the hundreds of organizations and charities we support, impacting millions of people worldwide.” The company, headquartered in Jersey City, has had roots here since 1974 when it crossed the river from Brooklyn. In New Jersey, the company donates 100,000 pounds of food each month to the Community Food Bank; and its currently offering $20,000 culinary arts and food science scholarships to four students across the country. The do-good company, which rakes in $1.5 billion in annual sales, employs 4,000 people at 26 facilities worldwide.

Kevin Walsh

A longtime affordable housing advocate, Walsh now holds the position of New Jersey’s state comptroller, a watchdog figure tasked with rooting out fraud, abuse and waste at all levels of government in New Jersey. Murphy tapped Walsh on Jan. 23 and he began serving in an acting capacity the following Monday, though he could theoretically serve his entire six-year term as an acting state comptroller. As executive director of the Fair Share Housing Authority, Walsh signed off on affordable housing settlements up and down the state in an effort to help thousands of residents who struggle with the high cost of housing, and make sure that redevelopment includes affordable housing. As comptroller, Walsh has the authority to investigate state agencies, public universities, independent state authorities and local school and municipal governments. He will have virtual independence from whichever governor serves above him, and can issue subpoenas and conduct audits as part of his investigations. The position was created in 1934, but the state did not have one until Matthew Boxer in 2008 under then-Gov. Jon Corzine. During his tenure, Boxer scrutinized state contracts with businesses tied to South Jersey political powerbroker George Norcross, as well as Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo. The role could put Walsh at odds with some of the most powerful political figures in the state, even though he has alluded to not wanting to engage “powerful folks.”

Jerry Zaro

The New Jersey trustee of the Gateway Development Program Corp., Zaro has been making the case for federal funding of the estimated $14.3 billion bridge and tunnel infrastructure project. The project would produce 12,000 new jobs and generate $19 billion in economic activity, Zaro argues. But he has cautioned that the project is being held hostage, calling it “a national disaster happening in slow motion.” Part of Zaro’s job is to stop that disaster. “Jerry is a tremendous advocate for the projects,” a source who works closely with him told NJBIZ in February 2020. “The thing I think he did really better than anyone last year as chairman was delivering the message and spreading the message of the importance and urgency of the project to lots of different audiences. He was very committed to being out publicly at a time when the projects themselves hit significant roadblocks. We needed to keep stakeholders, elected officials, and everybody else motivated and on board and rowing together for the project. Jerry did a great job with being out there and being an advocate for them and an evangelist to keep people’s motivation and interest up.” Gov. Phil Murphy saluted Zaro in a statement to NJBIZ. “Jerry Zaro’s extensive career in public service, under the last eight gubernatorial administrations, has made him one of our state’s most well-respected public policy voices,” Murphy said. “As chairman of the Gateway Program Development Corporation in 2019, Jerry’s expertise was instrumental to delivering a revised financial plan, passing the bi-state Gateway Development Commission Act, and strengthening partnerships with key stakeholders at the state and federal level. I will continue to call upon Jerry’s tireless advocacy to help bring the Gateway Program across the finish line.